July 22, 2017
When one reads the scriptural record of this woman of faith, the negative ascriptions given to her over the centuries are quite astonishing, even puzzling. One wonders if there is not some kind of latent sexism at play here.
First, there is the common misconception that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Nothing in the Bible indicates that this was so. The city of Magdala was an important shipbuilding and trade center in its day and history indicates it had an unsavory reputation. Guilt by association does not necessarily apply, however.
Then there is the word “maudlin,” which is an alteration of the word “Magdalene,” from the practice of depicting her as a weeping, penitent sinner. Well yes, John’s Gospel does indicate that she wept at Jesus’ tomb when his body was found to be missing, a perfectly appropriate grief reaction to my mind. She also was healed by Jesus of some kind of spiritual and/or physical illness. But the definition of maudlin as “weakly and effusively sentimental” is a completely unfair characterization when it comes to Mary. Her story would indicate quite the opposite.
Mary Magdalene travelled with Jesus and supported the mission financially. She went with others to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body and in John’s account, was the first witness to the resurrection. The Eastern Church regards her as the equal of an apostle. Even more stunningly, it was Mary Magdalene who was present at the crucifixion after all of the other disciples had abandoned Jesus to save their own hide. I understand why the disciples ran. My point is that Mary of Magdala did not run, but chose to stay at the risk of her life. Her devotion to Jesus is unquestionable. After the resurrection the disciples went back home, but Mary “…wept and remained standing outside the tomb.”
What are we afraid of here – intimacy? Is it that the man Jesus seems to have had a close, loving relationship with an empowered woman as a disciple and it makes us nervous? Whatever the source of anxiety may be in the historical record surrounding her, it is important that we see in Mary Magdalene a person of strength who never stops her seeking of the Christ in his life or in his death. Gregory the Great said that “She longed for him whom she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him.”
We tend to find what we are looking for, positively and negatively. Mary was looking for Jesus and in her seeking heard her name called by the Savior of the world. Who was seeking whom? It is in our seeking that we are found.